Picture of the day: Photographs of the American West: 1861-1912 (A Pioneer Family in Loup Valley, Nebr., ca. 1886. Cropped from Item 134. (69-N-13606C)

Photographs of the American West: 1861-1912

Cover photograph: A Pioneer Family in Loup Valley, Nebr., ca. 1886. Cropped from Item 134. (69-N-13606C)

By 1848 the United States had acquired official title to the contigous land stretching westward to the Pacific, south to the Rio Grande, and north to the 49th parallel. Americans had long since explored and settled in many of these areas, but legitimate possession created an impetus for development that began to crystallize as other timely occurrences brought a greater influx of people to the West. The religious persecution of the Mormons had led them to begin their migration westward by this time. The discovery of gold would soon draw thousands more across the country.

This transition from a “wild” western frontier into organized segments of a federal union is documented in photographs. Private citizens and Government officials took the recently developed camera on their western adventures to record nature’s curious sights and the marks that they as men and women made on the landscape. It is indeed a wonder that so many photographs have survived the hardships of the western experience, for early negatives were made of large glass plates. Some of these photographs have found their way into the National Archives as record materials of several Federal bureaus and offices, such as the Bureaus of Land Management, Indian Affairs, Public Roads, Weather, Agricultural Economics, and Reclamation; the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Geological Survey, boundary and claims commissions and arbitrations, the Corps of Engineers, the Forest Service, and the Signal Corps. The photographs listed below were selected from the records of these agencies now on deposit in the National Archives.

While the records of Federal agencies continue to document changes on the face of western America and the efforts toward effecting some kind of progress, an arbitrary cutoff date of 1912 has been used. At that time Arizona, the last of the contiguous 48 United States, was admitted to the Union. Having arrived at its destiny, the “Wild” West was in a sense officially terminated.

The captions in quotation marks are those of the photographer or the person who cared for the photographs before they came into the custody of the National Archives. Within quoted captions, bracketed material has been added by the compiler. Information following quoted captions and all captions without quotes has been provided by the compiler. The name of the photographer together with the date of the item is given if available. The listings are arranged by subject–such as transportation, lndian life, military life, and mining–and thereunder chronologically. An index appears at the end of the list. The index is arranged by State, the names of which usually are the same as their former territorial designations. Some entries appear under more than one State; others could not be indexed by State.

The back cover of this leaflet explains how to order complete sets of slides of all photographs described in this pamphlet and in the other Select Audiovisual Records leaflets. To order individual prints, negatives, or slides, write to the Still Picture Branch for a current pricelist. Many photographs of the American West are not included in this list. Separate inquiries about them should be as specific as possible, including names, dates, places, and other details.

The research, selection, and arrangement in preparing this select list was done by Charlotte Palmer, who also wrote these introductory remarks.      More

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